A smoked turkey leg is the world's heartiest finger food. You can hold them in one hand and refuel while you walk — which is why they're such a staple at fairs and festivals. Smoked turkey legs taste just as good in your backyard, and are a good smoking project for beginners and experts alike. With a home-smoked turkey leg in your hand, you'll feel like a smoking expert and a true carnivore.
The first step to smoking turkey legs is finding a place to buy them. Some supermarkets may only stock turkey legs during the holiday season. Even if you do see them in stock one week, they may be gone the next. Your best bet is to plan ahead and ask your butcher about availability, or about the possibility of a special order. It's also possible to order frozen raw turkey legs online.
If your supermarket does stock turkey legs, look for ones with unblemished skin. Yellow discoloration or spots are a sign that the legs have been sitting on the shelf for awhile, and the meat may be starting to dry out.
Brining is the key preparation step for smoking turkey legs. Turkey meat is notoriously dry, and the smoking process will cause significant moisture loss.
Soaking the legs in brine for 24 hours before smoking adds additional moisture and makes the final product more tender. Because you're starting with more moisture, you can smoke the legs for longer. More smoke means more flavor, and drier, crispier skin.
To brine a turkey leg, first prepare your brining liquid. A classic brine is 1 gallon of water with 1 cup of salt, but to add additional flavor to turkey legs, we recommend a brine with these components.
In a large pot, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cool to room temperature, then add a half gallon cold water and 4 cups ice, and place in the refrigerator until chilled. Once chilled, submerge the turkey legs in the brine and refrigerate for 24 hours.
After brining, you can season a turkey leg with dry rub ingredients like ground spices and herbs. Just go light on the salt because the brine has already introduced plenty of salt into the meat.
A turkey leg will take 2 to 3 hours to smoke at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to make sure you don't overcook is to use a probe thermometer like the one on a Traeger. The turkey leg is ready to eat when the internal temperature, as measured by your Traeger probe, reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pecan or hickory are excellent woods for smoking turkey legs. The woods have similar flavor profiles and are good for smoking poultry. They are stronger than fruit woods like apple and cherry, but not as strong as mesquite, which can overpower the flavor of turkey.
You can buy smoked turkey legs that have already been smoked. They will come either frozen or refrigerated. Frozen smoked legs must be fully thawed before preheating.
To reheat smoked turkey legs, preheat your Traeger to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Once that temperature is reached, place the legs on the grill grate and heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
Turkey skin stays rubbery if not enough moisture is cooked out of it during the smoking process. The moisture may come from leftover brine.
For crispy turkey legs, eliminate as much moisture from the surface of the skin as possible before smoking. Pat the surface dry multiple times after brining.
Another method to try is dry brining. Salt the surface of the meat, then let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. The salt will absorb into the meat, and the air circulating in the refrigerator will dry the surface moisture on the skin of the turkey legs.
Don't wrap turkey legs in foil when smoking. The foil will block the wood fired flavor from absorbing into the meat. Why would you want that?
Using foil is sometimes a good idea when smoking a whole turkey, to prevent certain parts of the bird from cooking faster than others. Foil is also useful when cooking huge cuts of meat like brisket, which absorb plenty of smoke during the first few hours of cooking, and can then be wrapped in foil to speed up the cook. But for turkey legs, foil isn't necessary.
Go beyond the basic smoked leg with these unique ideas for seasonings and preparation.
A flavored brine leads to moist and tasty smoked turkey legs — after a low and slow smoke, of course.
Cook time: 5 hours
Makes: 4 turkey legs
1 cup Traeger Rub
1/2 cup Morton Tender Quick Home Meat Cure
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon crushed allspice berries (optional)
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
4 turkey legs
A combo method — these legs are brined, seasoned before cooking, and then glazed near the end of the smoking process.
Cook time: 2 hours
Makes: 8 turkey legs
2 gallons water
1 cup sugar
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
1 cup kosher salt
8 turkey legs
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup garlic powder and kosher salt mix
4 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup maple syrup
8 tablespoons butter, browned
These legs are brined, then injected with a bourbon-laced mixture.
Cook time: 3 hours
Makes: 6 turkey legs
1 bottle Frank's RedHot Sauce
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whiskey or bourbon
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/2 cup chicken stock
6 large turkey legs
If you love the flavor of turkey, check out our complete collection of recipes.